Hong Kong protesters take aim at Chinese visitors to explain grievances

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters are expected to take to the streets in the heart of Hong Kong’s tourism district on Sunday to explain to mainland Chinese visitors their opposition to an extradition bill that has plunged the city into political turmoil.

FILE PHOTO - Automated immigration clearance machines for departing passengers stand in the Hong Kong Port Area at West Kowloon Station, which houses the terminal for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL), developed by MTR Corp., in Hong Kong, China, September 22, 2018. Giulia Marchi/Pool via REUTERS

Protests against the now-suspended bill have drawn millions of people onto the streets of the former British colony in recent weeks in what has become the greatest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012.

The bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, has triggered outrage across broad sections of Hong Kong amid concerns it threatens the much-cherished rule of law that underpins the city’s international financial status.

Demonstrators besieged and ransacked the legislative building in the heart of the city on Monday before they were driven back by police firing tear gas.

The protests have received little coverage in mainland China, where censors have blocked most news of the largest demonstrations since the bloody suppression of pro-democracy activists in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

Protesters now plan to take their message directly to mainland Chinese tourists for the first time with a rally finishing at the city’s high-speed rail station that connects to the mainland.

Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation, which runs the city’s underground railway, said it would shut all entrances to the West Kowloon station apart from a specific route for passengers. Food and beverage outlets would also be closed.

Online train tickets between Hong Kong and Shenzhen on the mainland were displayed as sold out from 2.30 p.m.-6.30 p.m. (0630 GMT-1030 GMT), coinciding with the hours of the protest.

Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK said more than 1,000 police officers would be on standby. Police said on Sunday some roads would be closed temporarily and public transport would be diverted.

Hong Kong’s Tourism Association has also said some travel agencies would stay away from the fashionable Tsim Sha Tsui area, popular with mainland visitors, on Sunday.

Organizers have produced witty advertisements to urge people to join the march. “Dear magicians, if you were unable to turn the cold-hearted into warm-hearted, take to the streets with us on July 7,” said one.

The extradition bill, which has left Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam clinging to her job, would cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or traveling through the city.

Lawyers and rights groups say China’s justice system is marked by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detention, claims that Beijing denies. Protesters want the bill withdrawn altogether.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.

Lam has offered closed-door talks to students from two universities but activists said they want the discussions to be open to the public and called for a halt to investigations of protesters. Police began arresting protesters this week.

Nearly 2,000 people marched in the northwestern residential district of Tuen Mun on Saturday to protest against middle-aged mainland women they accused of brashly singing and dancing to pop songs in Putonghua, a Beijing dialect of Mandarin Chinese.

Protesters said the singers caused noise pollution and disturbed residents. Scuffles broke out and police used pepper spray to disperse crowds, broadcaster RTHK said.

Reporting by Vimvam Tong, Twinnie Siu, Aleksander Solum, Jessie Pang and Noah Sin; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Paul Tait